The coronavirus is a stark reminder of the devastating damage that could be inflicted by cyberattacks, superbugs, freak weather and a variety of other threats. These wild cards are in addition to the existential challenge posed by climate change, gross inequality, financial meltdowns, autocratic governments, terrorism and other massive problems collectively called the Global MegaCrisis.
I sense the world is so frightened by recent disasters that people are searching for new solutions. They seem ready to break from the past that is no longer working. Climate change is starting to bite, for instance, and there is a growing consensus that the status quo is no longer sustainable.
I have studied this dilemma for decades, and I think it can be best understood as a transition to the next stage of social evolution. The Knowledge Age that dominated the last two decades is fading into the past as AI automates knowledge, forcing us to move beyond knowledge and develop a global consciousness able to resolve the MegaCrisis.
Yes, I know this is a bold claim, but that is how the shift to a world of knowledge looked 40 years ago. When computers filled rooms, I recall telling people that we were entering a world of personal computers. The typical response was “Why would anyone want a personal computer?”
Just so, today’s post-factual era illustrates how the smart phone, social media, and autocrats like Trump have moved public attention beyond knowledge and into a world of values, emotions and beliefs. Now the challenge is to use these new powers of social media to shape a global consciousness, or face disaster. While this may seem impossible, that is always the case before major upheavals. Nobody thought the USSR would collapse up until its very end.
In fact, the Business Roundtable’s recent announcement that business should move beyond the bottom line to include the interests of all stakeholders is revolutionary. It has now been promulgated by the World Economic Forum and other influential bodies. The gravity of this change is such that business is now being told to help resolve the climate crisis. Larry Fink, who runs the biggest investment firm in the world (Black Rock), directed the companies he owns to help address climate costs in their operations; within days, many firms announced climate plans.
This historic shift in consciousness could make corporations models of cooperation for society at large. In short, I think the world is heading toward some type of historic shift in consciousness, a collective epiphany, a code of global ethics, a spiritual revolution, a political paradigm shift or a new mindset. Without a consciousness based on global unity, cooperation and other essential beliefs, there seems little hope. And with a shift to global consciousness, it all seems possible.
Toward a Global Consciousness
The governing ideas inherited from the industrial past are outdated and heading toward disaster. It is a collapse of today’s reigning “materialist” ideology of Capitalism, economic growth, money, power, self-interest, rationality, knowledge, etc. These values remain valid and useful, of course, but they are now badly limited. Prevailing practices in the US, as the most prominent example, are failing to address the climate crisis, low wage employee welfare, universal health care, women’s rights, political gridlock, aging infrastructure and other social issues that lie beyond sheer economics.
This could become a “Collapse of Capitalism” roughly equivalent to the “Collapse of Communism” in the 1990s, and it stems from the same fatal flaw – failure to adapt to a changing world. Communism could not meet the complex demands of the Information Revolution, and now Capitalism seems to be failing to adapt to a unified globe threatened by pandemics, climate change and the other threats making up the MegaCrisis.
The big question remaining is, “What should be the new vision, values, principles, and policies?” At the risk of appearing pedantic, I integrate what has been learned above and my forthcoming book, Beyond Knowledge, to outline five principles of what I consider “global consciousness.”
1. Treat the planet and all life forms as sacred.The Fermi Paradox notes that no other civilizations have been detected after decades of SETI searching. This rarity of life reminds us what a miracle plant Earth really is, and that we are responsible for its well-being.
2.Govern the world as a unified whole. Nations remain the major players in this global order, but they should be lightly governed by some type of global institution like the UN and other international bodies. Individuals should continue to be loyal to their nations and local institutions, but they should also accept their role as global citizens.
3. Collaborate with stakeholders to serve collective needs. Free enterprise is the basis of society, and the good news is that business is on the verge of becoming cooperative. The Business Roundtable announcement that all stakeholders should be treated equally with investors seems an historic breakthrough. This move to a quasi-democratic form of enterprise could set a new standard for collaborative behavior and human values throughout modern societies. One of the benefits from a tragedy like this crisis may be a loss of faith in the status quo and an urge to cooperate. I see it everywhere, and it is a blessing in disguise emerging out of chaos.
4.Embrace diversity as an asset. Rather than becoming a uniform pallid bureaucracy, a unified world should embrace the wondrous diversity of cultures and individuals. Working across such differences poses a challenge, naturally, but differences are also a source of new knowledge, talents and human energy.
5.Celebrate community. Any society needs frequent opportunities to gather together in good spirit, enjoy differences and commonalities, and to simply celebrate the glory of life. The World Olympics Games, for instance, are special because they provide a rare feeling of global community. We could witness a flowering of celebratory events over the coming years to nourish the global soul.
This is only one small study, of course, but I hope it provokes thinking toward a widely held vision for planet Earth at a time of crisis. An historic change in consciousness is hardly done overnight, and the obstacles posed by the status quo are formidable. But the Information Revolution provides a powerful method for shaping consciousness by using the Internet and public media. Think of the explosion of ideas, hatred and forbidden desires released by billions of people blasting into loudspeakers like Facebook and Twitter. Anybody can use the media to shape public opinion instantly, for better or worse.
The task we face is to shape a unified consciousness out of this morass of differences to solve the global crises that loom ahead. Today’s threats to reason is challenging us to counter wrongheaded beliefs and to provide more attractive visions, such as the principles for global consciousness outlined here. I suggest the place to begin is by discussing these ideas as widely as possible, and to shape public opinion roughly along these lines.
Last week’s blogissued a call for statements proposing solutions to the Global MegaCrisis.
Yes, this asks a lot, but the coronavirus crisis warns what’s in store as other threats arrive in the years ahead–more pandemics, climate change hits home, revolts over gross inequality, mass automation of jobs, global financial meltdowns, autocratic governments, cyberwar, bio attacks, terrorism, etc.
I received several fine statements and invited others to join in. The results are shown below in alphabetical order by last names. This is hardly a scientific survey, but it does represent a collection of forward ideas by some of the best thought leaders in the world. Here’s my quick analysis of what each has to offer, followed by what we can learn collectively.
Dennis Bushnell offers a provocative vision in which people become self-sustaining on a small plot of land while connected seamlessly to the entire world on tele-everything. Dennis concludes that all problems would disappear – “no pandemics, no energy crisis, no climate change, no financial mess, no job losses, etc.” But one must think big to see this solution.
Jim Datoris dismayed by attitudes favoring economic growth over cultural and ecological values and believes that they are unlikely to change. The only way forward is through the imminent self-destruction of dominant values, behavior and institutions, with “the hope that a million phoenixes arise from the ashes… countless tsunami that we must learn to surf with pleasure and pain.”
Amy Fletcherprovides a timely analysis of the coronavirus pandemic and effects of the crisis, highlighting the failures that are prolonging the pain. She advises us to “listen to those voices who do not have a platform and speak truth to power.” The role of the futurist is to facilitate the efforts of those who lack power because the answers we need may lie with them.
Sohail Inayatullah digs beneath the layers of these continuing crises to probe the underlying causes. Sohail finds that we need a “Gaian re-balance by moving to a world with a quadruple bottom line: Prosperity, Purpose, People, and Planet.” A new Renaissance is needed – the transformation of self and society, home and plant.
Peter King urges us to follow the science and create a Nature-centric world. Guided by the natural wisdom of Earth’s ecosystems, we would find abundant energy, food, medicines, water, jobs, economic growth and a more satisfying lifestyle. To avoid dangerous tipping points, we must move forward into a “visceral and directly experienced relationship with Nature.”
Ruben Nelson focuses on the passing of today’s “modern techno-industrial” civilization, with no workable replacement for it in sight. While he is not hopeful about a solution, he does think what’s needed is a “wise, integral and meta-reflexive form of consciousness.” In other words, rather than thinking of economic growth, “The only way to grow, is UP.”
David Passigfinds two phases that could unfold from the MegaCrisis. The first will disrupt the present idea behind globalization as mutual collaboration based on voluntarily respect and common interests. The second will establish the idea of ”entanglement” as symbiotic undetachable ties with enforced collaboration that respects mutual dependency on each other.
I am pleased to provide this summary of my forthcoming book, Beyond Knowledge. This is simply a quick outline of the central theme, but the book should come out later this year.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and constructive criticism at Halal@GWU.edu.
The Age of Consciousness Is Here
After flying large aircraft in the Air Force, working on the Apollo Project and a stint in Silicon Valley, I became an academic at UC Berkeley and promptly became fascinated with the revolutionary power of the technology revolution. Although I also study business, economics and the social sciences, I introduced a course on Emerging Technologies in 1980 when information technology began taking off. Soon, a few colleagues and I developed what is arguably the best forecasting system in the world. The project won awards, was featured in a full-page article by The Washington Post, and I was flooded with requests by corporations and governments.
I also began to understand that the real story was not about the technology itself, or even its social fallout. Instead, it seems the technology revolution is driving an unrecognized social upheaval from “knowledge” to “consciousness.” The most striking example is the advent of today’s “post-factual world.”
The post-factual phenomenon forces us to see that the Age of Knowledge, which dominated the last two decades, is receding under today’s flood of smart phones, social media, artificial intelligence and autocrats like Trump. Knowledge is still crucial, but the tech revolution is driving the world beyond knowledge into a new frontier governed by emotions, values, beliefs and higher-order thought. I think this means that an “Age of Consciousness” is here, though one may not like its current form. Whatever one thinks of President Trump, almost all would concede that he is brilliant at creating an alternative reality. He is a master at shaping consciousness.
But why should we be guided by this epidemic of fake news, ignorance and outright lies? Because this eruption of unreasonableness has enveloped the globe, and it provides a clue to the new world of consciousness now being born. It’s like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, and a shot across the bow of ships of state. Politicians in Russia, Turkey, England, and Brazil, to name a few, now take refuge in dismissing criticism as fake news. Authors have called it an “Assault on Intelligence,” “The Death of Truth,” “A World Without Facts,” “The Death of Expertise,” “Truth Decay” and “The Fake News Fallacy.” 
This rule of unreason pervades life today, and numerous examples suggest it is epidemic. The US government, for instance, has been locked in stalemate for decades, even though Congress has more knowledge than it can handle. Emotional issues like abortion, gun control, immigration and the other roadblocks to a sane society have been studied to death, yet gridlock persists because of conflicting values, self-interest, and a hunger for power – consciousness again.
This brutal reality should make it rather obvious that the roots of disorder that plague our time are not rational problems to solve. They involve all the complex, messy, emotional baggage generated by normal people; they hinge on matters of subjective consciousness. The domain of consciousness is where the problems lie, and so it is also where the solutions are to be found.
Beneath this tectonic shifting in consciousness is the driving force of artificial intelligence (AI), automating knowledge work and driving us into this new frontier. The rapid advance of AI is probably the most powerful force for change today.Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, said “AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on … more profound than fire or electricity.”  The result has left business, government and the public alarmed at the impending crisis in which roughly half of present jobs are eliminated and causing social chaos. AI poses one of the most perplexing questions of our time: what lies beyond knowledge?
As this book will show, everything beyond knowledge is subjective consciousness, and the advance of AI is more evidence that we are moving into this confusing new domain. This historic shift in social evolution is illustrated by the graph below which makes the case vividly. I have struggled with this problem for years, and the result is this accurate plot of what I call the “Life Cycle of Evolution.” The logarithmic time scale is needed to encompass the billions of years at the start of the LCE as well as decades today. Without a log scale, the shape of the LCE would not be recognizable. The curve would simply make a sharp turn up.
In this clarifying light, the next stage of social evolution becomes rather easy to envision. The data show accelerating progress through the earlier stages, and the logical next stage is the culminating birth of an Age of Consciousness, about now in 2020. A global level of consciousness is needed because it is increasingly clear that we are all dependent on one another in this single planet, that we should strive to become global citizens. The inspiration for this concept is provided by the brilliant insight of the Jesuit anthropologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who envisioned the world guided by a web of consciousness that envelops the globe. 
Yes, this is a bold claim. I have earned a good living and a small measure of fame by forecasting change. Publications attest to the accuracy of my forecasts in the 1970s that the Knowledge Age would arrive about 2000.  At that time, I recall telling people that personal computers were coming, only to be greeted with “Why would anyone want a personal computer?”
Yet in 2000, PCs were everywhere, books on knowledge became rife, corporations competed to become “knowledge organizations” and the majority of jobs required working with computers to manage knowledge. I am equally confident that an age of consciousness is here today, and we simply do not yet understand this intriguing new frontier.
Consciousness has been around throughout history, of course, so what is really new? Information and knowledge have also been used in ancient civilization, but the Knowledge Age occurred when information technology matured into the most powerful force on Earth, occupying the bulk of the labor force and our very minds.
In a similar way, consciousness is becoming a powerful technology, although barely understood, and it is changing the world. The most prominent example is public media. Think of the explosion of opinion, hatred and forbidden desires released by billions of people blasting into loudspeakers like Facebook and Twitter. Anybody can use the media to shape public opinion instantly, for better or worse. We are awash with seeing actors, TV stars, politicians, athletes, ordinary people with heart-breaking stories, cute kids doing smart things and influencers like Kim Kardashian.
The challenge is to shape a unified consciousness out of this morass of differences to solve the global crises that loom ahead. As we will see in a moment, today’s threat to reason is challenging us to counter these wrong-headed beliefs and to provide more attractive visions that offer hope. To put it more sharply, we are all shaping consciousness because that is where the action is.
This historic transition also poses enormous threats that must be resolved to avoid disaster and reach global maturity. Climate change, automation of jobs, gross inequality, government gridlock, financial meltdowns, terrorism and more have formed a constellation of end-of-the-world challenges that a colleague and I call the “Global MegaCrisis” or the “Crisis of Global Maturity.  Our studies estimate that roughly 70 percent of the public thinks the present world trajectory is not sustainable. People have deep fears over today’s global crises and failures in governance, and they attribute it to a lack of leadership, vision and cooperation. The World Economic Forum published a report on Global Risks that stops just short of panic. 
The technology revolution will add even greater threats. I draw on my state-of-the-art forecasting system to show how the entire technology revolution is likely to unfold in the years ahead. It shows the vast range of benefits in store, but also the enormous problems of “eating fruit from the biblical tree of knowledge.” Smart cars, for example, will follow a similar path as smart phones. “A car is very much like a cell phone, and that makes it vulnerable to attack from the Internet,” said Jonathan Brossard, a security engineer. Among the AI threats, many are horrified at the prospect of robotic weapons turning on people. Now ponder what could happen when billions of intelligent devices like these are wired together in the Internet of Things?
Even today, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a global disaster, and it has shifted public opinion in favor of social unity and cooperation, the very changes in consciousness proposed in this book. This crisis serves to warn us of the even greater dangers ahead as climate change and the other threats comprising the MegaCrisis hit home in a few years.
This difficult transition can be compared to the transformation every teenager faces when passing through their own crisis of maturity. At some point, the problems become so severe that most teens eventually find the courage to act more wisely and become responsible adults. In a roughly similar way, this is humanity’s challenge to grow into a sustainable civilization. We are being forced to grow up, to develop a responsible global order, or suffer catastrophe.
This book will provide a sophisticated evolutionary perspective that shows how a global consciousness is emerging to resolve these threats and create a mature civilization. More than a theory, chapters will support this view by showing how people are changing their lives, their work, social institutions and global mindset. As seen in the chapter outline, I make a point of fleshing out these concepts with details, evidence, supporting examples and steps to consider.
I will show how consciousness is that inner place where we live our mental lives and it is changing rapidly. People are practicing mindfulness, living with Nature, using psychedelics and other “technologies of consciousness” to develop compassion and other integrative attitudes that improve health and well-being. Personal shifts in consciousness are also underway as many abandon the dogma of religion to use diverse spiritual resources to guide their own “human spirit.” All this work on consciousness is being used to make sense of a confusing new era and to help us to perform our jobs in a slightly crazed, high-tech world.
We will also see that our collective consciousness is shifting to transform the major organs of society that define how we live our public lives – government, business, universities, religions and other institutions. In each case, I will show that a small avant garde is quietly bringing a mature awareness to these varied facets of society. Drawing on numerous examples, we see how government can become lean and responsive, business is turning democratic, education becoming student centered, and religions moving from doctrine to a personal relationship with the spiritual dimension of life.
For instance, the Business Roundtable announcement that firms should serve all stakeholders rather than profit alone is historic. The New York Times called it a “watershed moment … that raises questions about the very nature of capitalism.”  Leading corporations like Whole Foods, IKEA, Nucor Steel, Nortel, and Unilever collaborate with employees, customers, suppliers and governments to solve tough problems and create value for the company and stakeholders. Larry Fink, who runs the biggest investment firm in the world (Black Rock), even directed the companies he owns to help address climate costs in their operations; within days, many firms announced climate abatement plans. 
Corporations are the most powerful institutions in the world. This impending shift to a cooperative form of business could set an example for societies at large, spreading tendrils of collaborative problem-solving throughout the social order.
Following these ideas for institutional change, I discuss methods being used to manage our consciousness in order to cope with the demands of high-tech life. We focus on applying what I have labeled “technologies of consciousness” (ToCs). ToCs are techniques, tools and methods we use to guide our awareness, mood, understanding and other facets of consciousness, or “human spirit.” As we will see, this includes hard technologies (drugs, brain prostheses, virtual reality, etc.); ordinary parts of everyday life (coffee, alcohol, media, etc.); leadership (purpose, cooperation, etc.) and many other tools for guiding consciousness.
A striking example serves as a case in point. A few years ago, the chairman of Aetna defused an audience of angry shareholders by wading into the crowd and asking forgiveness for his mistakes and shaking hands with the critics. Here’s how a board director described the result: “In 15 minutes he changed the mood of that entire room. It was one of the most skillful demonstrations I have ever seen.”  The chairman’s actions illustrate why higher-order forms of consciousness are likely to take off – they are simply more effective.
We briefly look at the use of meditation, prayer and other forms of inner guidance, the healing balm of Nature, and psychotropic drugs that relieve stress and provide insight. For instance, I cite a poignant story of a housewife who uses small doses of marijuana to relieve insomnia and anxiety, allowing her to become a “better mother to her children.” We then summarize evidence showing that managing the mind can instill higher-order values of cooperation, empathy, gratitude and compassion that are essential to a unified globe.
The superior power of higher consciousness provides the key to resolving the MegaCrisis. As shown in the LCE, each stage of evolution has been propelled by revolutions – the Agrarian Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, Post-Industrial Revolution and, most recently, the Information Revolution. Now, the world is awaiting a “Mental/Spiritual Revolution” to kick start the Age of Consciousness.
This transition can be explained using the Hegelian dialectic.  In Hegel’s terms, the Information Revolution forms the “thesis” that has been driving the world into a Knowledge Age, while the Global MegaCrisis represents the “antithesis” challenging this status quo. The coming Mental/Spiritual Revolution provides the catalyst to resolve this crisis and create a “synthesis” that becomes the new status quo – a unified global order.
This may seem outrageous, especially at a time when hostilities seem hopeless, and I could be proved wrong as the world descends into disaster. But the evidence outlined throughout this book supports this possibility pretty well. I suspect this transition is a normal but difficult process, and that it probably occurs on countless civilizations throughout the universe.
The main reason this seems optimistic, and even foolhardy, is because we have no experience in global consciousness. Huddled in our small section of a limitless universe, humans have little conception of planetary evolution, much less the transition to a unified world. Our understanding is roughly similar to a naïve person who first witnesses the agony of a human birth or a teen struggling to adulthood. Without previous knowledge, these painful transitions would seem awful, too hard to bear. Yet they are entirely normal and usually successful.
So too will our passage to global maturity appear in years to come. The current global order is not sustainable, and I think we should see a rising mental/spiritual revolution, global ethics, universal moral code or something similar about 2025 or so. A functioning global order is then likely to appear about 2050 +/- 10 years. In fact, I am as confident in this forecast as I was in 1970s that the Knowledge Age would arrive about 2000.
A unified global order will still bear the normal human failings, but it will make our current strife look as primitive as the brutal battles between kings’ armies in the feudal ages. This may sound too good to be true, yet I think most people today will live to see the coming of a unified planet and the triumph of human spirit, once again. Then it’s on to the Space Age.
Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved. William E . Halal
 Hayden, The Assault on Intelligence (New York: Penguin, 2018) Anne Applebaum, “A world without facts,” Washington Post (May 20, 2018) Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise (New York: Oxford, 2018) Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael Rich, Truth Decay, (Santa Monica: The Rand Corporation, 2018) Adrian Chen, “The fake news fallacy,“ The New Yorker (Sep 4, 2017)
This blog strives to be experimental in order to find formats that work best for our readers. While our first issues presented leading ideas of interest, we now try becoming more interactive. This issue shifts focus to describe approaches for putting strategic foresight into action.
ASCE Future World Vision ProjectThe American Society of Civil Engineering has been conducting an exciting strategic foresight effort in which TechCast was invited to participate. Below, ASCE’s Jerry Buckwalter sums up his ambitious strategic project to transform civil engineering for a world of high-tech infrastructure. The article shows how major technological advances and converging global trends make various “new worlds” possible over the coming decades. When finished, the final program will operate online as a computer simulation, allowing engineers to explore and experience cross-disciplinary solutions to various scenarios.
Invitation to Solve the Global MegaCrisis The global pandemic and its ensuing recession are adding new threats to the mounting climate crisis featured in our previous issue. With all these hazards escalating, Bill’s Blog thinks it is time to address the broader Global MegaCrisis. We invite readers to submit 100-word strategies that offer a compelling path through the existential challenge posed by climate change, global pandemics, gross inequality, financial meltdowns, autocratic governments, conflict and terrorism and other threats making up the MegaCrisis. The submitted strategies (send to Halal@gwu.edu) will be presented in the following issue of Bill’s Blog, pooling our collective knowledge into insightful conclusions.
Global DepressionAs stock markets plummet due to the coronavirus disruption, the editors offer our TechCast forecast on Global Depressions.
Responses to our first two newsletters was gratifying, and we were given a small wave of contributions to publish. This issue features fascinating essays by two of our most eminent TechCast experts and our forecast on Superbugs.
Jose Cordeiro Shows Us the Big History Chronologies of Life. This is an amazing collection of data showing the evolution of Earth from the Big bang to today and into the distant future. Below we provide the forecasts for the coming decade. This is intended to focus only on technology, so there is no mention of the climate crisis and other threats making up what Michael Marien and I called the Global MegaCrisis. Our studies and common opinion show that a strong majority of people think the present global path is not sustainable. Without a major shift in global consciousness, these powerful technical advances may never happen. Some type of global epiphany, a code of global ethics or a mental/spiritual revolution seems likely within the next few years – or we will face disaster. That will be a major event in big history.
Arthur Shostak Reminds Us that Famous People, like Tupac Shakur and Marilyn Monroe, Have Been immortalized in 3D Holograms that Act and Talk Like the Real Person.This is expensive, but it should become commonly available as IT becomes “cheap and infinite.” Imagine your virtual assistant and other platforms gathering information on you continually. Eventually they would develop a replica of how you look, your behavior, your thoughts and idiosyncrasies. The idea of “uploading your mind to a machine” always seemed missing the human element. This would constitute a feasible way to immortalize humans and allow us to continue “living” with our loved ones and the public.
Superbugs Could Become the Next Global Pandemic.Growing resistance to antibiotic medicines threatens our ability to contain a variety of more invasive diseases. Our forecast offers a penetrating analysis.
With parts of Australia now uninhabitable due to raging fires, flooding subways in New York City, and scorching heat in temperate zones like Europe, the signs of climate change are hard to ignore. Some climate deniers are coming to accept the massive threats upon us even now. It is estimated that 300 million people would be displaced, two orders of magnitude greater than the 2 million Syrian refugees that created political chaos in the EU.
Little wonder that Jeff Bezos recently contribute $10 billion to combat the problem. Even the Trump Administration is getting worried and approved plans to plant one trillion trees.
To shed some guidance on this existential challenge, Bill’s Blog is pleased to present the following advice from four of our best minds.
Noted futurist Hazel Henderson sums up the amazing and long anticipated move from livestock to plant-based foods now underway.
NASA scientist Dennis Bushnell outlines the revolutionary advantages of saltwater plants (halophytes) that could “solve land, water, food, energy and climate problems.”
TechCast Founder William Halal shows how a carbon tax/dividend policy would discourage the use of carbon fuels, avoid government regulation, gain political support and grow the economy.
Climatographer Mark Trexlerdraws on two alternative scenarios to illustrate the options and finds that the more pessimistic outcome seems likely now.
My wife and I recently took a vacation in New Orleans for Mardi-Gras, and it turned out to be another “trip into the future.” Like our recent trip to Brooklyn that illuminated the tech revolution and millennial harmony, this time New Orleans showed the way to racial and ethnic peace.
After a few days of feasting on Gulf Coast seafood, endless wild parades, and frolicking people, the last night of Mardi Gras took us to Brennen’s restaurant for a late dinner. Somehow, we were invited to tour the newly renovated building, discovering a dozen or so lovely dining rooms and leaving us basking in the warmth of Southern hospitality. The lovely meal, gracious service, beautiful setting, and the jubilant city pulsing into our table was uplifting, to say nothing of a wonderful mint julip. The walk back to our hotel seemed to float somewhere about 6 feet above ground, and it became clear we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
The gritty streets and rowdy crowds faded from consciousness and the city seemed to rise into the air, like a mirage of joy and hope. New Orleans is known for its crime, corruption, and racial tension, but that was all gone. We wandered aimlessly through celebrating crowds dancing in the streets to spontaneous jazz groups. I marveled at the harmony among blacks, Asians, Hispanics, whites, and foreign visitors. There was no conflict or confusion. The all-too-common angst in race relations, for instance yielded to a gentle tolerance and sense of community. It made me think of Jonathan Kolber’s book, A Celebration Society, proposing that everyday celebrations are vital for healthy societies.
Our invitation to tour Brennen’s was the first sign that something was happening. My wife and I think of these unusual events as adventures—moments when you seem to have entered a softer, more ethereal realm where things surprise you. Some psychologists call it a state of flow, while Christians would think of it as grace or an epiphany. Everything is exactly where it belongs. Each action, each word, seems right. Time stands still. Simply being alive is enough. What was confusing instantly becomes crystal clear. This was the main lesson I revisited in New Orleans: the power of shifts in consciousness.
For instance, seeing the strength and dignity of such diverse people from all over the globe, I realized that many Americans have racial and immigration issues profoundly wrong. Those who are fearful of foreign faces fail to see them as a vast human resource that is rapidly gaining dominance, even in the US. Yes, we have to get past decades of old wars, slavery, hurtful stereotypes, and collective guilt. But our diverse population has enormous strengths we have barely begun to recognize. I left New Orleans with little doubt the US will benefit greatly from all of its many talented and industrious people in years to come.
We also met some Russians who were visiting, and I wondered what they thought of American democracy? In contrast to Putin and his accomplices who control Russia with an iron fist, here was a society that celebrated freedom and openness. Are Russians envious? Resentful? Will they outgrow their Cold War defensiveness and join the modern world? What would it take for Russians to make this mental shift?
We live in a changing world of exploding complexity, struggling to adapt to a confluence of crises like climate change, energy, financial instability, political gridlock, terrorism, etc.. Today’s institutions, living habits, educational systems—and the very ideas, values, and beliefs that support all this—are increasingly outmoded. The key to making the transition to a sustainable world lies in such small, everyday shifts in individual consciousness, and a few big shifts too
I spent a week in Brooklyn recently for my daughter’s wedding, and I came back thinking I had seen the future.
Brooklyn is not an easy place to live. My wife and I found a loft that was a bit gritty, but we wanted to share the life of my daughter and her new husband who live in a loft. It turned out to be quite interesting. One may have to face concrete floors, but oriental rugs give them a comfortable look. Exposed plumbing and heating, and walls of uncertain shape and color can be off-putting — until one realizes it’s a metaphor for the messy nature of modern life. One is forced to learn how to float serenely above the rubble.
The most striking aspect of my visit was to see how millennials like my daughter have formed a life of diversity. The wedding was a rich mélange of wildly different lifestyles, clothing, races, genders, occupations, and anything else one might imagine. There was a lovely young woman in a flowing gown, a black man with dreadlocks in a white suit and red tie, unshaven men wearing cargo shorts, people in business clothes, all manner of hair and sexual orientations. This community of the young got along so well that it seemed perfectly normal. No conflict, no cliques, no stress. This looked like the future, and it gave me hope.
One reason for this blissful coexistence is widespread information. They live in a rarified world where smart phones connect everyone together constantly. Travel by Uber-like car services is called up on demand. Places to stay are arranged on the spot using AirBnB. Any question answered with Google. Destination mapped with GPS systems. Food and groceries are just an email away. Texting is like breathing. They sleep with their phones, take them into the bath, and even to bed. One wonders what to expect when the next generation of IT beyond smart phones comes along?
There are many different Brooklyns, with wildly varying cultures, so it is hard to generalize. The Brooklyn of my daughter’s millennial crowd is just one element in this rich mix, but I think it’s the Brooklyn of the future, the America of the future, and even the world of the future. It’s a world of constant contact with everyone and everything, celebrated by a wild mixture of cultures, and held together by strong pockets of community, hopefully merging into a global whole.
Not an easy task, and there will always be conflict and brutality. But I think the world is coming together, and I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the future in Brooklyn.
My wife and took a glorious week in Rome, Tuscany and Umbria recently, savoring the glories of Western thought and life at its height in the Renaissance. Apart from the wonderful sights and food, of course, I was struck by how vividly the central issues of our times can be seen in visiting Italy, and most of the EU.
Our guiding principles of democracy and free enterprise were firmly established in Florence during the Renaissance and have now spread throughout the world, with some exceptions like China. The comfortable lives of Italians and most modern people today are a result of this “liberal” culture favoring knowledge, science, human values. While Western culture has been a great historic success, the unresolved clash between left- and right-wing politics remains fierce.
I have lived the France and travelled throughout Europe, and I find that life in most of the EU is roughly as good as in the US. Italian roads, transportation, government services, and most aspects of public life are excellent, for instance. With some exceptions, Italians generally live well with little poverty and crime in lovely environments. This makes it very difficult for anti-government critics to condemn “European Socialism.” Considering all aspects of life quality, EU nations usually excel, with the US down the list with less advanced nations.
This euphoria was punctured when checking into the airport at Rome to return to DC. We faced a harrowing 5 hour ordeal of struggling through a labyrinthine snake line of thousands backed up behind a wall of confused security agents. Our flight had to be delayed almost 2 hours to get passengers aboard, which then cascaded down to hundreds of missed connections.
This is just a single incident, of course, but it show how it is possible to accept such horrible service as something that one has to endure. It highlights the pervasive problem of bureaucracy that permeates all societies. The agents were struggling to get each passenger to unload their bags to gather all “electronics” (hair dryers, cell phones, attachments, cords, etc) into a single plastic bag. While all this attention is focused on such relatively minor details, studies on tests of airport security show a strong majority of attempts to pass guns and knifes are successful.
I am happy to report that this problem of excessive bureaucracy was in sharp contrast to our reception at US security coming home. As I told one of the TSA agents when arriving at Reagan National Airport in DC, “Italian airport security makes you look good.” Bright and alert, well-trained and competent, they whisked us through, highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit that Americans strive to cultivate. The irony is that Italians are masters of enterprise at the business level. The nations is flooded with thriving shops, small companies, and large global corporations.
That’s the main point to be made by this little anecdote. We live our daily lives balancing the costs of excessive market freedom advocated by conservatives against the costs of excessive government bureaucracy from liberal programs. Europeans enjoy the comfortable lives of social democracy, but they suffer a loss of freedom, innovation and bureaucratic governments. American society rightly celebrates this entrepreneurial dimension (think Steve Jobs), but we are horrible at public services and sound regulation. The US remains alone in not providing universal health care, child support, parental leave, and other common services.
One of the greatest challenges of our time is to reconcile the conflict between left and right to the benefit of both political wings. In the US, Republicans are once again peddling their snake oil of more tax cuts and slashing government. In the Reagan and Bush eras, this exploded the national debt, emptied out the middle class, and produced market failures like the 2008 financial collapse. The Democrats are again proposing government actions to revitalize the middle class with better education, tax breaks, infrastructure spending, and the like. Well-intended, but this flies in the face of ultra conservatives who are now holding governments hostage.
This polarization of left and right is emblematic of our time, with similar conflicts common in the EU, UK, Israel, and many nations, It is usually thought to be unavoidable, but I think a deeper understanding shows unusual potential. Left and right orientations are like poles on a magnet or battery – the sharp differences are a form of energy that can be harnessed to create power. That’s why collaboration now represents the major source of progress today.
A simple example can be found in the stalemate over the Keystone Pipeline project. A constructive approach would be to “internalize” the social costs of mining into oil prices and let the market sort out supply and demand. The project might then simply fail on its own merits or survive as an honest venture providing net social value. This is only one possibility, but it illustrates the ability of collaborative solutions to serve both right and left wing interests.
There is a huge and growing body of knowledge and practice that illustrates the mutual gains that collaboration can produce for both sides of such conflicts. But one wonders if serious political change is possible in American institutions. For instance, TechCast forecasts the trend toward “Democratic Enterprise” – a synthesis of free enterprise and democratic community — but the odds are slim. Our experts think there is only a 30% chance the US will make this concept widely acceptable, even though they agree it would represent a big gain with very positive social impacts. Time will tell.